web series

“Man Enough” destroying and rebuilding the concept of masculinity

As a feminist who believes strongly in equality, the mere idea of men gathering together to discuss what it means to “be a man” would classify as my literal nightmare. Images of repressed emotions, false bravado and exaggerated displays of aggression immediately flash before my eyes. However, Justin Boldoni’s series “Man Enough” is a beacon of light in a world otherwise dominated by the darkness of toxic masculinity.

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According to Baldoni, Man Enough is a social movement that “invites all men to challenge the unwritten rules of traditional masculinity that have caused us to disconnect from one another, created the foundation of men’s violence against women and prevented us from taking the long journey from our heads to our hearts.” This series, which partially takes place around a dinner table, is informal, lighthearted and comprised of diverse voices. It enables the audience to feel like they’re an active participant in the discussion and not just a passive viewer. (Not to mention I’d like to hire Boldoni’s chef to make my food every day.) 

Within the first few minutes of episode 1, “Why Don’t Men Talk”, Baldoni asks his guests what it means to be “man enough.” Without hesitation, Bassem Youssef, who is considered to be the Jon Stewart of the Arab World, summarizes the defining theme of the series by saying, “Man enough. Man up. Be a man. It’s all bullshit.”

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Youssef goes on to express discomfort with even using the term masculinity in a positive light because of his experiences in the Middle East. He explains that some people in his native country define masculinity solely by how their women behave and the amount of power men exert over them. But as Derek Hough, a professional dancer known for his work on Broadway and Dancing with the Stars, interjects- that’s exactly what they’re trying to change.

The preceding conversations then shift to center on redefining and understanding modern masculinity.

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Music

False gender dichotomy in country music- “different for girls”

Grow a pair, you microaggresion, triggered little faggot.” “Too many p*ssies in the world.” “Everybody is so offended by fucking everyyyyythigggg. Like its (sic) a song don’t listen if you don’t like it omfg”

You may have already guessed by the petty insults and terrible grammar, but I made the mistake of reading the YouTube comments under Dierks Bentley’s arguably sexist hit song: “Different for Girls.” It is with great difficulty that I’m suppressing a Liz Lemon level eye roll at the amount of fans refusing to admit that Bentley’s track seems problematic. They don’t believe that claiming “it’s different for girls when their hearts get broke” is a reductive generalization of how women, in opposition to men, experience heartbreak. Some even argue that these harmful gender stereotypes are remedied simply by refusing to listen to the song. However, ignoring an issue this deeply rooted in society doesn’t make it go away.

Admittedly, Bentley intended “Different for Girls” to create “some dialogue about the different ways guys and girls deal with heartbreak” by depicting “both sides of the stereotype.” Unfortunately, without watching the music video, it is nearly impossible to tell that Bentley is criticizing how men “typically” react to breakups. In fact, his lyrics seem to reinforce toxic masculinity by insinuating that guys can easily tape their hearts back together “with a whiskey and a coke.”

Men are rarely afforded the luxury of expressing any emotion, other than anger, because they were conditioned to “be tough” from a young age. In our society, boys are usually considered to be innately stronger than girls and thus, as children, receive less “comfort, protection and affection.” It’s no wonder that these boys grow into men who can “fast forward through the pain” of heartache and “push it back when the tears come up.”

Anger, which is associated with power and status, is only deemed acceptable in men. If women indulge in this uniquely masculine feeling then they are considered to be erratic and emotional. They can’t “call just to cuss” or “find a wall [they] can punch” unlike their male counterparts. This is because men are “thought to have emotion” while “women are thought to be emotional” (Shields, 2002).

This emotion, according to Justin Mateen (creator of Tinder), makes it difficult for girls to have casual, meaningless sex because “women aren’t wired that way.” Despite evidence that suggests women may be “even less well-suited for monogamy than men” it is still widely believed that girls are unable to separate sex and emotion. Apparently drinking with friends and hooking up with strangers is a distinctly masculine activity. But if that’s the case, then who exactly are all of these heartsick guys taking home?

Unless, Dierks Bentley is claiming that all men engage in homosexual activity after a breakup, it’s safe to assume guys are going home with girls. These girls, who are also indulging in libations and enjoying the company of friends, then decide to go home with the random guys. Following that logic, girls are clearly also able to “take someone home and act like it’s nothing.”

Our society seems to have an obsession with ensuring that both women and men ascribe to gender appropriate thoughts, behaviors and actions. As Dr. Robert Minor describes in his book “Scared Straight: Why It’s So Hard to Accept Gay People And Why It’s So Hard to Be Human” we all live within “the ideas about reality our culture gives us…without much reflection about them.” Minor goes on to liken our experience to that of fish in water.

We have never known a world without water, or toxic masculinity and gender stereotypes, and many may never realize there is an alternative to “wetness.” We have gotten so used to men being “manly” and women being “fragile” that it’s uncomfortable to disturb this image. However, analyzing “Different for Girls” challenges our comfortable swimming patterns and begs the question, shouldn’t it actually be different for boys?